A Dozen Dubs

Harrison, girls’ cross country win 12th state championship


Hartley Hill

Posing with their state championship trophy, the girls cross country team stands together at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, FL on Nov. 10. They brought home their 12th state title under the coaching of Roy Harrison.

Hartley Hill, Copy Editor

Spiked up, adrenaline rushing and hearts racing, the girls cross country team toes the line at the FHSAA 4A State Championship meet. The next 20 minutes determining the final fate of their season, the start gun fires and they’re off. The race itself is a blur. Once finished, all eyes shift to the scoreboard. 

“We were all catching our breath and our team score was shifting as our final points came in,” senior Lily Fitzgerald said. “In my head, we had won. We had to have won. I knew we all ran our hearts out and this was us owning 2020. But, of course, nothing is ever guaranteed, so the nerves were high.” 

As the girls reign was soon confirmed, the team claimed their 12th state championship after a COVID-19 season of uncertainty. With this win, Coach Roy Harrison now holds more titles than any other, breaking his own record of being the most decorated girls cross country coach in Florida history. 

“There is no secret to winning 12 state championships,” Harrison said. “It just takes a lot of hard work and dedication by all the girls and a lot of dedication by me as a coach. It takes a lot of year-round training that some schools just aren’t willing to do.” 

The girls began their season in May with summer conditioning. Once meets started, practices were six days a week and training included long runs, track speed workouts, mile repeats and 5 a.m. wake-up calls to drive north to run through the hills of Pasco County 

“There were many days where I was not in the mood to run but did it anyways,” Fitzgerald said. “We all did. We felt the fear of beating our PR’s and losing races, and we did it anyway.” 

Leading up to states, the squad captured championships at the district and region meets, twice barely beating their toughest competitor, Newsome High School. 

The state meet would take place Nov. 10 at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, FL. 

At states, the Plant girls took home the win with a score of 79 points, beating out Newsome High School (92 points) and Lakewood Ranch High School (136 points). The team, composed of junior Mary Ellen Eudaly, junior Arlie Rubin, junior Penny Markowski, Fitzgerald, freshman Maddie Gear, senior Hartley Hill and junior Maggie Malizia, finished with an average time of 19:47 for the 5k race.  

“I was anxious after crossing the finish line but had a really good feeling about the race, so I was pumped up and I just started looking for the rest of the team and coach,” Rubin said. “I’m very grateful to be coached by Roy and have the opportunity to apart of his coaching experience because I know he cares so much and is so passionate about running. That is conveyed through his coaching and how he treats us like family.” 

Harrison has coached the girls cross country team for 39 years. After retiring from teaching at Plant in 2016, he continued to coach cross country, still biking beside his runners at practices. 

“My favorite part about coaching is being with the girls and having a good time,” Harrison said. “Also, watching them improve each year is very gratifying. It’s nice to see them 20 years later still running and enjoying the sport just to stay healthy.” 

Harrison won his first state championship in 1991, then consecutively winning four years after that, through 1995. Harrison and girls cross country have also brought home state titles to Plant High School in ‘97, ‘01, ‘02, ‘10, ‘11 and ‘18. 

“His 12 state championship wins are impressive and well deserved, for he is so incredibly dedicated to the sport,” Fitzgerald said. “He orders a new license plate with the updated number of State wins every time we win a new one, so he’s got to get on ordering license plate number 12. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience to run for Coach Harrison.” 

But Harrison faced new challenges this 2020 season. Like all sports this year, COVID-19 posed questions and concerns on whether there would even be a cross country season.  

“This season was different from all others because we had to deal with COVID-19 and all of the quarantining,” Harrison said. “The biggest challenge this season was not knowing who is going to get quarantined or possibly catch the virus. It was a very stressful season.” 

To ensure no one would get quarantined by school, thus prohibiting them from racing, the top eight runners self-quarantined two weeks out from the state meet. 

“I think the hardest part of the season was when a lot of us self-quarantined from school for many weeks,” Markowski said. I definitely missed school; it was a really big sacrifice that we all had to make.” 

But alas, the girls cross country team capped its successful season with another state title. The returning runners will continue to train for next year during track season and summer. 

“I miss it already,” Fitzgerald said. “Cross country is such a community for me. I love girls I got to run beside. I’m thankful for all of the Bayshore memories.”